Expert Advice for Runners in Bend
After months of hype, the XTERRA Nationals are finally here.
The XTERRA Trail Run National Championship is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 18, at Bend, Ore. More than 500 trail runners from around the world are expected to be on the starting line.
A handful of them - like two-time defending champion Max King - are considered experienced and elite runners who will blaze through the 21-kilometer course.
But what about the rest of the field? What about the runners who are competing in Bend for the first time?
For those who are not sure what to expect at Bend on Sept. 18, here are some tips from two of the elite runners in the field: Stephanie Howe of Bend, and Sean Kievning of Southern California. Howe placed eighth among the women at the 2009 XTERRA Nationals, and Kievning placed seventh among the men.
Q: How would you rate the XTERRA 21K course in terms of difficulty and technicality?
Sean: If you are looking for a bunch of hill climbs and technical terrain you won't find much of it at the Xterra Trail Run National Championships in Bend. This race is just flat-out fast from the start and it does not show any sign of slowing down the further in you go. Out of all the races I have run in California, this race is the flattest course but also a much higher pace. If I could rate the difficulty of the terrain/technicality from 1-5, I would give it a 2. But for overall speed and pace, I would give it a 5.
Stephanie: I would say on a scale of 1 to 10, the technical difficulty of the course is a 5. The race is on trails, but they are pretty tame compared to many of the other trails around here. There are not a lot of twists and turns, logs, rocks, roots, etc. The river trails are heavily used and is basically a flat trail covered in dirt.
Q: Are there any "traps" or especially difficult sections runners need to be aware of:
Sean: If you are used to hill climbs or very rocky terrain, you won't find much of that in Bend. The one thing that did get me was the dirt is much finer and softer in some spots like sand, and in others it is even like a powder. Stay light on your feet and adjust to the terrain by not sinking into the softer dirt as much. Landing flat on your feet and not heel striking or pounding the ground so hard will help keep your feet above the dirt, thus keeping your quads from burning out as fast. And if you don't like breathing in dust on your runs, try and stay out and away from groups or packs of runners because the dirt won't just stay on the ground.
Stephanie: Not really, there is a section a little less than halfway in where the course is sort of "off-trail" and rugged, but it doesn't last long. The only caution I have is that the river trail from the start appears flat, but is gradually uphill. It's easy to start too hard and end up in trouble.
Q: How much of a difference does the elevation in Bend make, especially for those coming from areas closer to sea level?
Sean: The colder, thinner air made the start of the race a little hard to adjust to. I would make sure you take a good 15-minute run before the race to warm your body and lungs up. When I ran this event for the first time, I felt like I was sipping air through a straw right from the freezer.
Stephanie: Bend isn't really very high in elevation, at 3,600 feet. The threshold where altitude starts to affect people is between 4,000-6,000 feet. Still, to be cautious if coming from sea level there are a few things you can do:
Q: What words or phrases would you use to best describe the XTERRA 21K course?
Sean: Almost flat, fast. Along the river it is distractingly beautiful. Starts off cold and ends up hot .
Stephanie: Fast, flat, very runnable. It is a course that will favor a true runner with foot speed.
Q: Does the potential for cold weather make a difference in a race like this?
Sean: Dress warm and get warm running before the race. Caffeine helps promote blood circulation and will help the body stay a little warm at the start, but you need to continue with caffeinated supplements to sustain your energy, especially if you are not used to using them.
Stephanie: It may be chilly at the start, but that is a good thing for most runners- not as much of a chance to overheat. Make sure to do a good warm-up and don't be afraid to start with more clothing that you need. I often will wear a hat and a pair of mini gloves that I don't care about. When I finally warm up, I'll ditch the gloves and hat. Usually, I get them returned, but if not then I'm not too upset.
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